Our columnist Martha Thomases has spent the past two weeks in Japan with her son, Arthur Tebbel. By all reports, they’ve had a swell time. Here’s some of it, in her own words and pictures:
Kyoto is a city I have always wanted to visit. The traditional Capitol of Japan is known for its beauty and history, its cultural importance. Naturally, the first place I went when we arrived was the Kyoto International Manga museum. The building, a former elementary school, has a collection of more than 300,000 volumes, as well as a great deal of original art. In addition to the permanent collection, there are special shows as well. This is the current show. Not really graphic story, but an assortment of panels by international artists. I am embarrassed to say that the only name I recognized was Mike Mignola.
Everywhere you look, there are books. The shelves on the walls are higher than you could possibly reach.
The permanent exhibition shows the history and techniques of the form. This, I believe, is the “Biff! Bam! Pow! Comics Aren’t Just for Kids!” of Japan.
Here is some original art, I think. Really pretty stuff.
They consider cosplay to be part of manga. This is a current exhibit linking these two powerful cultural exports.
The latest issue of Roy Thomas’s fine magazine Alter-Ego arrived in today’s mail. This one was dedicated to the late Joe Kubert, who died some seven months ago. It arrives a couple of days after I learned of the passing of Joe’s contemporary (and my ex-boss) Carmine Infantino. The synchronicity is odd and painful. These two men were excellent artist/storytellers and quite a bit more and they were among the first of their kind; they helped invent comic books.
Years back, when I was chipper and unbald and fanzine folk began asking to interview me, I was flattered and – sure, always happy to open my gob. And so I did. But I wondered: shouldn’t these young journalists be talking to the older guys, the ones who were there at the beginning? Because most of them were already past youth and, as novelist Samuel R. Delany observed at the time, comics were still new enough for interested parties to read almost everything that had been published. Wasn’t this an unparalleled opportunity? Didn’t the happy coincidence of accessible talent and available work provide a chance to really examine, closely, the emergence and evolution of an art form? Because, for obvious reasons, this ideal coincidence wouldn’t be in effect forever. Wasn’t a lot of interesting and potentially valuable information in danger of being lost?
Well, maybe some was lost, or will yet be lost, but probably not as much as I feared. There were interviews that I knew nothing about and a lot of the pioneers still had plenty of talk left in them. And communication was about to boom: the quaint mimeoed and hectographed fanzines were giving way to stuff produced by slicker technologies and those, in turn, were in the shadow of forthcoming electronica, an example of which is before you at this instant. Scholars and hobbyists alike are continuing to investigate and document comics and please allow me a modest hurray.
It seems safe to say that comics are the most documented art form in history (though cinema may have some claim to that honor.) We have large amounts of what. Now, how about some more why? There are, I hereby aver, correspondences between the evolution of comics, particularly superhero comics, and that of mythology/religion. A properly focused exploration into one might reveal something about the others and, storytelling being one of mankind’s primary activities, this revelation could help us discover meanings that have so far eluded us. Another possibility: the influence cartooning in general and comics in particular has had on journalism.
Does anyone sniff a term paper? A thesis, even? Or have such papers already been written? Could be, I guess.
Meanwhile: we have lost two of our founders, and in our usual helplessness, we can do no more than mourn, and we should.
Over ten years ago I was in business with Irrational Games and its creative guru Ken Levine. I liked Ken and I liked his company. We were trying to bring a comic book project to life. It didn’t work out but such is life. Years passed and I did my thing and Ken and Irrational Games did theirs.
Then Irrational Games launched Bioshock.
Fuck. That game was a game changer.
I sent Ken a note congratulating him on the success of the game. I never heard back from him. That’s fine; those things just don’t bother me. I don’t dwell on why people do what they do or don’t do. He could have just ignored me because he’s such a big shot now or he may never have seen the email or another 50 thousand reasons why he did not respond.
Bioshock is still one of my favorite video games and that’s true rather I heard back from Ken or not. When the second Bioshock game out I loved that game as well. It seemed to be to be a bit harder than the first one and truth be told I’m still not done with it.
In fact I’ve been stuck on the same level for… let’s see…about two years.
No. I have not been playing the game constantly for two years. I pull it out every few months to try and beat that level, fail, then put it away for another few months.
More than a year or so ago I hear about a new Bioshock. BioshockInfinite.
Some time after that I see some of the screen shots from the game and start to hear some of the hype surrounding the game.
I’m all in. Man, I’m all the fuck in.
I can’t remember the last time I was so jazzed over anything. Oh wait, I can remember. I was dating this Asian girl and…wait, now that I think of it, Irrational Games treated me just like that Asian girl.
They both promised something great yet that greatness kept being delayed. Over and over again. Bioshock Infinite was delayed then delayed again and frankly I got a little pissed waiting for it.
Then I thought that might be a great way to reconnect with Ken. I’d send him a funny email making light of the delays. After a little thought I decided not to do that. I realized I didn’t think the delay was funny so the odds of the guy who was sure to be taking some flack over it thinking it was funny was slim to none.
So I just waited.
Then the wait was over. For only the 3rd time in my life I went to a midnight release of a video game. When I arrived back home I started to play and at first I was not happy. The game starts with some puzzles, which I just hate.
I hate puzzles in fucking video games. I’m not buying a shooter so I can figure out how to unlock a door so I can start shooting.
Fuck that, I just want to shoot mofo’s. I don’t mind a level where I face a challenge as long as that challenge is how to survive not how to figure how many turns it will take to unlock a door and the only way you can do that is by finding a piece of paper that has the correct number of turns on it but first you have to decode that fucking paper.
This is not 1993 when video games had to be clever, no it’s 2013 and I want my video games simple. George Bush simple, that means no puzzles! If George Bush had to deal with puzzles we would have had World War III…twice.
As is my policy I at least try and figure puzzles out so that’s what I did. I gave it a try and-son of a gun-I did it! What, you ask, would have been my alterative to trying to solve the puzzle? Looking up the solution on the net would have been my next move.
No, whenever I’m stuck in a video game I don’t run to the net. If that was the case I would not still be on the same level on quite a few games as I am now, Bioshock 2 being just one of them.
I’m done with the puzzles but I’m still not shooting anyone. Now. I’m starting to get really pissed. And then, as if an answer to my prayers, a gun appears in my happy little hands.
Now I’m happy!
No, I’m really happy! This game is turning out to be worth the wait and living up to all the hype.
Then I see something that makes me want to get on a plane, fly to Boston and put my foot up the ass of Ken Levine.
Irrational Games is playing the race card.
There is an element to this game that deals with racism. In case you have not played the game I won’t say anymore than that. I’m not a dick so regardless of how I felt when first seeing that backstory I won’t go into detail.
I’ll just say I saw an image that made my blood boil. Fortunately for me I realized that more than once I’ve assumed the wrong thing regarding race so with that in mind I decided to continue shooting people until more of the backstory was revealed to me.
I’m glad I did.
I no longer want to put my foot up Ken’s ass which would most likely be a mistake as Ken does not strike me as anyone’s Bitch. That said – I love this game. Irrational Games pull off something remarkable and I’m not just talking about gameplay. That is not to say that some people of color won’t have a problem with the game (they will) but I’m not them and I love this game.
Well done, Irrational Games. And Ken don’t worry about returning my call, it’s only been a bit more than a decade. Bioshock Infinite took a while and look how good that turned out.
Mad Men starts its sixth season this weekend. I won’t be able to see it because I’m out of the country, but my cat sitter has strict instructions to set the DVR, so I expect to be up to speed anon.
I am psyched.
The last season ended in 1967. I’m not sure whether this new season will pick up immediately after the last one left off, or if it will jump forward a year or two. In any case, the late 1960s were a time when any average Tuesday had more drama and conflict and human interest than all of the 1980s combined.
The advertising for this new season, at least as seen in the posters in the subway, hint at some of the challenges we can expect to see. Buttoned-up Don Draper versus a chaotic world.
Which brings me around to comics, and the points I want to make this week. For as long as I can remember (which doesn’t include the late 1960s, by the way, because that’s what the late 1960s were like for me), comics fans have bemoaned the fact that comics don’t advertise. If only comics reached out to people the way books/movies/television do, we’d have a mainstream medium.
I don’t think it would make any difference. Comic companies don’t know how to advertise.
Let’s look at an ad for an upcoming series I anticipate eagerly, the new Constantine, written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Ray Fawkes and Renato Cuedes. John Constantine is one of my favorite characters.
The ad shows Constantine sitting in a graveyard, slouched against a tombstone with his name on it, smoking a cigarette. There is a vase of red roses at his feet. Zombie hands are reaching for him, and there is a drooling zombie behind him. A skull rises from a grave to his left. There is a logo above his head, and above that is the line, “Playing with magic always comes with a price…”
It’s a terrible ad.
If you didn’t know anything about the character, or the creative team, what would this tell you? It seems to depict a guy who is so lackadaisical about the undead that he can relax with a smoke. Where is the tension? Where is the drama?
What’s in it for me?
The best advertising suggests a benefit for the consumer. It elicits an emotional response (and if you don’t believe me, watch any episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper explains things to the client). Perhaps my dishes will be cleaner, my vacation more glamorous, my beer-drinking nights more fun. Successful advertising for entertainment promises me emotional highs and lows, laughter and/or tears. It promises me that I will experience something I’ve never had before.
Perhaps DC assumes that, since the ad is running in their books, the reader knows who the character is, and what the creative team can do. Perhaps they think this information is enough to motivate someone already familiar with the work.
After all, the Mad Men poster I praised earlier is just a picture of Jon Hamm walking down a city street. In this case, however, the average media consumer knows about the show, and even if that person doesn’t watch it, Jon Hamm is regularly in movies and other television shows, reaching an audience outside the show’s usual demographics. By using a master of advertising illustration from the same era as the show, the ad evokes the time period. The composition implies a tension that is at odds with the soft colors of the background.
My curiosity is piqued. I can’t wait. Anticipation achieved.
The DC ad does none of this. And until our industry learns how advertising works (and, no, this doesn’t count), we don’t deserve nice things.
…if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things
The quote above is from Raymond Chandler’s superb essay, The SimpleArt of Murder. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a huge favor and do so, right now. Google the title and read Chandler’s prose and then come back to me. I’ll wait.
Hi. You’ve finished reading Chandler and here you are, and yes, you owe me one.
But now I want to bollix the discourse by disagreeing with Chandler. I agree with almost everything Chandler writes in the essay – almost, but not all. “...if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things”? Um, no. But it’s a qualified no. If we’re discussing a fictional man, then okay, let Chandler’s claim stand. I think most writers and critics and teachers would agree that consistent behavior is a constant – in fiction. But does it apply to real life? Maybe not. The engines that run we noble humans are deep and complicated, and the rules they follow, if any, aren’t easily visible. Ol’ Charlie there, he can be a Fearless Fosdick in one situation and a whimpering poltroon in another and does even Charlie know why?
The event in which I participated last week might prompt these musings. It was held in SoHo, my old stomping grounds, and it ostensibly celebrated…well, maybe “celebrated” isn’t the right word: Let’s say that the event recognized the 148th birthday of Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent and big kahuna among the witch hunters of the early 1950s. His book, and the congressional hearings of Senator Estes Kefauver, with the approval of a sub-posse of clergy and editorialists, decimated the comic book business, put hundreds of decent citizens out of work and, arguably, lamed an art form.
Boo and hiss, Dr. W., you stinky old psychiatrist.
We comic book guys have tended to demonize Wertham for sixty-plus years. But last week’s give-and-take yielded information about Wertham that may have been new to many in the room. He fought for public school integration. He provided psychiatric care for residents of Harlem for a quarter a session, or a dime. He seemed to be a decent and useful professional. Until he wandered into comic book land.
Carol Tilley, a librarian at the University of Illinois, was one of my co-panelists in SoHo. Ms Tilley performed the useful, and much overdue, task of actually digging into Wertham’s papers. She discovered that Wertham faked much of the “research” he used to bolster his accusations. So…this successful and respected and charitable man of science cooked the books. A couple of columns ago, I speculated on his possible motives and reached no conclusion, and although the SoHo event was interesting and informative, no conclusion was reached there, either.
We can call Dr. Fredric Wertham a man of honor. He just wasn’t a consistent one. Maybe he should have been fictional.
As I type these words – 20 hours prior to posting – ComicMix is in the following situation. Glenn Hauman is about to board a plane taking him from WonderCon to San Francisco to Newark, New Jersey. We should see him sometime late next year. Martha Thomases and Arthur Tebbel are wandering around Japan hoping the whole North Korea is-gonna-nuke-us thing is a joke. Bob Greenberger is somewhere vaguely north of the White House staring at boxes and wondering how he got so old so fast. Adriane Nash is floating around North Haven Connecticut holding a candle. Vinnie Bartilucci is in Who Heaven studying the 50th anniversary show read-through photos pixel by pixel. Marc Alan Fishman is trying to come up with a way to spend more time with his son Bennett without having to go to Japan. Some of the above are planning on this weekend’s MoCCA Arts Fest.
That leaves me here at ComicMix Central. Always a dangerous thing.
And then my iMac started acting up.
I’ve had more than 29 years of experience with all things Macintosh, so I should be able to fix things while Wizardboy Hauman is on the Left Coast. And, while I’m at it, I should be able to shoot down flying monkeys with my psionic death rays.
Turns out that psionic death rays thing might have been easier to pull off. I’ve spent 24 hour doing PRAM zaps and SMC resets, swapping cables, connecting and disconnecting USB cables (2.0 and 3.0), connecting and disconnecting USB devices, fussing with Bluetooth and WiFi, blowing off sundry start-up apps and rebooting like a cobbler on meth. And I still get five copies of the “You’ve got a USB device that’s draining too much power, asshole” error messages cascading across my screen on the average of every 20 seconds.
OK. Every once in a while computers, cars, and human beings break down and I’m way, way past my due. When Adriane isn’t wandering around New Haven county, we’ve got a zillion machines here including iPads and iBooks and iBalls. Unfortunately, Adriane is wandering around New Haven county with some of the above equipment, so I can’t boot my machine as a target disk.
Which means, in English, that I can’t do squat until I’ve fixed it. I’ve got to post Michael Davis’s Tuesday afternoon column (this wouldn’t have been a problem if I got the column on time, as opposed to just past midnight Monday morning; Michael’s got an excuse and it’ll probably be next week’s column) and I’ve got to write and post my column and do all kinds of other important stuff. I can do a lot of this on my iPad and I have, but in order to edit art and post properly, I need that iMac.
And then, literally 55 minutes before Michael’s column is to go up, I find it. Well, maybe not “it” but something that, if disabled, seems to cure about 90% of the problem. That’ll do… and maybe that other 10% will disappear when I reboot.
Or maybe the iMac will go Nagasaki on me: that’s how computers, cars and human beings tell us they want to be replaced.
No matter that if you live in the midwest there may be snow on the ground, and if there isn’t, there was recently. It is, dammit, spring! What you gonna believe, Skippy – your eyes or the calendar?
And to herald spring, here comes one of my favorite holidays – Easter. You know the story: humanity’s savior gets crucified, chills in a tomb for three days, comes out and starts a religion. If you’re into comparative mythology. you can find that similar things happened to earlier deities, including Adonis, Osiris, and Mithra. The myths, and their attendant holidays, celebrate something real – the emotions,including hope, that we desperate humans experience when the long gloom of winter goes away and life returns to the Earth. Our ancestors tended to give phenomena they didn’t understand names and identities. Maybe that tendency still exists in their descendants.
Do we feel that you can’t keep a good god down?
Then what about comic book characters? They seem to have difficulty staying dead, too. I have personally participated in the demise of four that I can immediately remember, all of whom popped out of the afterlife in one form or another, and they’re only a few entries in a rather long list that includes some of the biggies: Superman, Captain America, Robin the Boy/Teen Wonder version two. And then there are the lesser but still prominent characters, including Cap America’s young pal Bucky, Elektra, and one of my personal favorite supporting cast members, Batman’s butler Alfred. (Full disclosure: Alfred wasn’t really dead, only, you know, deadish. For two years.)
And why do I feel compelled to include a spear-carrier who died and stayed dead? We’re talking Larry Lance, the detective husband of the original Black Canary. We gave him a one panel funeral in Justice League of America, sent his widow off to another universe and sweet love with Green Arrow, and forgot about him. Maybe I’ve given Larry a paragraph as a service to serious trivia freaks.
But Larry wasn’t even a superheroes and superheroes who die are our subject, so back to them. DC Comics has recently killed two prominent costumed good guys and raised a bit of a stink in the doing. The (late) characters are (were?) yet another incarnation of Batman’s youthful sidekick, Robin, and, evidently, John Stewart, the African American Green Lantern. What’s notable about the Robin is that he is (was) the first of his ilk who was Batman’s biological son. John Stewart? The stakes are a bit higher: he was one of the earliest of comics’ superdoers who wasn’t a white guy and for a time, he was pretty much the only Green Lantern in the DC Universe. I’d say that as fictional beings go, he’ll be missed. (The Robin? No idea.)
But will John (and Robin?) stay deceased? Well, they’re not gods, not exactly (though they are first cousins to the mythological deities). Will they return? History may be nodding its head yes, but I’ll content myself with a shrug.
Because his parents were shot down? Really? I mean… really?
That’s weak. Even for an obsessive-compulsive who’s borderline psychotic, that’s just silly. He’s got a belt full of lethal weapons, he’s got more in his car, and even more in his cave. And, speaking of OCD, they all have the same first name.
So, why doesn’t Batman use a gun?
Because it’s boring. It’s visually boring, and comics is a visual storytelling medium.
If the Joker comes running at him, he can whip out his Batgun and splatter the walls with green hair. Or he can start off a nifty three-page fight sequence.
Well, he can also whip out his Batarang and separate the crown from the clown, but that’s just one long panel. It might be entertaining if we were in one of those once-every-generation 3-D fads, but those fads never last long.
Let’s try it again.
The Red Skull is out after Captain America. Cap whips around and:
A) Shoots him, obviously in self-defense and likely saving the lives of dozens if not hundreds of innocents to come, or
B) Frisbees his mighty shield across the page and leaps upon the evil bastard and pummels the poo out of the guy, who even in defeat, manages to escape.
Yeah. What would Jack Kirby do?
Superheroes are not anti-gun because they are possessed by the liberal media. Superheroes don’t use guns because it’s unexciting storytelling. Gunplay in superhero comics is visually boring.
Police use guns because they are not paid by the panel and they have some concern over what their spouses are making for dinner. Taking the longer view, our military uses guns for much the same reason. In their world, visual excitement will likely get them killed.
Young and mostly silent Jake, the enigmatic hero of the television program Touch, doesn’t look ancient. Nor does he look particularly Greek. But ah – might he be a reincarnation of Pythagoras? Or at least a fictional character inspired by Pythagoras?
Okay, for you hordes of non-philosophy majors pit there: Pythagoras was probably the first guy who called himself a “philosopher.” He lived about 2500 years ago and he taught that all things were connected, that what he called the One was at the base of everything and that this One expressed itself in numbers. Or such is my admittedly sketchy understanding of Py’s riff.
And Jake? Well, Jake is this kid, about ten, who doesn’t speak but writes or otherwise communicates numbers to his father and eventually, after exciting adventures, Jake’s numbers tie diverse things/people/events together and provide the solution to that episode’s problem.
How does Jake manage his feats? Well…in short, he seems to be a superhero. No costume, no flamboyant displays of abnormal prowess. But we know that Jake has some kind of metahuman ability – he’s a mutant, maybe? – and that there are others like him, and finally that some person or organization has dispatched a geeky assassin to exterminate them.
Though there are echoes of earlier superhero sagas here – Watchmen and the X-Men titles come immediately to mind – Touch is a novel iteration of the superhero concept, and as original as anything in our story-saturated culture is likely to be. That it’s also well-written and acted is a nice bonus.
But what really pleases me about it is what I understand to be its central metaphor. Unlike most of our televised mind-gum, Touch is not extolling the essentiality of family, though Jake’s relationship to his father is important, nor does it glorify the Individual, nor assure us that right makes might, which is why the good guys inevitably out-bash the bad guys. Instead, it displays a notion common to ol’ Py and modern quantum physicists – the Higgs boson crowd – and Buddhists and feel free to add some examples of your own. That notion: everything is connected.
Which is obvious when you think about it, despite the political howls when our current president observed that, sorry, nobody accomplishes anything without some kind of help. You wouldn’t be reading this without the biosphere and the biosphere depends of interaction of gravity with mass and particle and millions of years ago a lobe fish crawled onto land and began the evolutionary journey toward becoming Justin Bieber and and and…and some thirteen-point-seven billion years ago the Big Bang happened and here we are, watching teevee, and passing the popcorn.
I doubt that Touch’s creators are in the business of teaching us cosmology. Their job is to entertain, and in my living room, they do. But they do so without lading on dramatic tropes whose overuse has given them cliché status, and since you and I are united, maybe you’ll join me in being grateful to them.
Yesterday morning I received an e-mail from my pal/ComicMix partner/Secret Santa Glenn Hauman with a link to a three-month old piece in The Atlantic and the comment “You simply must write this up!”
Must? Glenn never says must. He knows I’ll twist and turn any demand challenge into the pretzel from hell – you know, it’s a living – so he usually makes polite suggestions.
I was thinking about writing in detail about exactly how to fix the comic book industry and how easy it is and how it won’t take any additional money to pull it off, but evidently Glenn thinks this is more important. So be it.
I believe the brilliant political satire The President’s Analyst (James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, and Wasteland contributor Severn Darden) to be even more relevant today than it was when it was released in 1967. I don’t want to do any spoilers but if you haven’t seen this movie, do so. Yeah, it’s got some hippie stuff. You can deal with that. But the ending of the movie, where the happy Doctor Doom of the piece, Pat Harrington Jr., explains his evil scheme is far more believable today.
For the past 46 years I have been proselytizing this nefarious scheme shall come to pass, and now, according to The Atlantic, it has. That’s because they know what magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback is. I didn’t, and now that I’ve read up on it my brain hurts real bad. The funny thing is, if this magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback thing works you might not have to do the heavy reading.
“Simply” put, magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback allows you to learn how to do visual stuff by having the information zapped directly into your brain. Boston University in Boston and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Japan figured it out. I won’t explain the process – I can’t explain the process, at least not until I undergo it and I doubt it’s covered in my über-lame health insurance plan.
Here’s the scary part. This procedure has most effective when applied to subjects who don’t know in advance what they’re supposed to be learning. Think about that for a minute. If somebody wanted you to, say, murder somebody and they chose you because of your access to that person, if you actually knew about this in advance your moral predilections might get in the way. Well, they might.
Of course, all of this is still in the experimental phase.
At least, that’s what they want you to think.
ComicMix Editor-In-Chief Mike Gold also writes a weekly, much more political yet somehow still whimsical column each week at www.michaeldavisworld.com, where Martha Thomases, Marc Alan Fishman and Michael Davis also try to annoy the masses.